24 May 2007

23 May 2007

On one of my few breaks from working the last two weeks, I read online that there would be a bus from Jerusalem going to a midnight produce picking in honor of the upcoming holiday of Shavuot.
One of the more popular service projects that birthright israel groups undertake is with a group called Table to Table, where students glean fields for fruits and vegetables. According to the Torah it’s a commandment for landowners to leave the corners of their fields unpicked so those who are poor can come and harvest for themselves. The holiday of Shavuot this week entailed bringing the first fruits of the harvest to the Temple as an offering, and The Book of Ruth which is read on the holiday details how the poor would glean the fields.
We arrive at a field in the seemingly middle of nowhere, driving on a dirt road with a green field in the distance illuminated by a row of floodlights and dotted with people. The crop du nuit is potatoes, grown in rows that have already been ravaged by school kids. Some may be above the soil, instructs the guy in charge, and some may need to be dug out with your hands.
It’s an amazing sight with native English speakers, girls in yeshiva and Ethiopian teens gathered in a field in the middle of the night with the same thought on their minds: Not getting dirty. Watching the teens run around and pelt each other with potatoes, I thought back to DC public elementary school and going as a class to a pumpkin patch for Halloween. Perhaps I’m reading into this too much, perhaps it’s the rampant racism in this country, but there’s some connection between people in a lower socio-economic bracket and not “getting into” picking produce on a farm for fun.
As much as I am and most likely will always be a city guy, there’s something in me that awakes when in nature. As the director finished his words, I’m on all fours wearing a backpack and clawing through the dense soil looking for potatoes. After 90 minutes, the skin on my hands is raw, my thumbs about to fall out, and many a designer fingerling potato has been found.
Soon we’re all spent, and we make our way to the bus and back to Jerusalem. As I didn’t get to participate with my buses in their service project, it was a great opportunity. Just like working again for birthright israel I left the program exhausted, needing a shower, and feeling great about myself.

School is re-starting after more than a month on strike. The Student Union and the government agreed on a plan to freeze any tuition hikes for the next two years, and allocate more funds to academic scholarships. The universities decided not to cancel the semester, and instead extend it 2-4 weeks into the summer. Meanwhile I haven’t been in class since before Passover, nearly two months ago. Looking over the last material covered in my Arabic course, I’m even more confused about it than before.
If you’ve read the last few posts here, it’s pretty clear I’m not psyched to go back to school. I’m looking into other possibilities to continue my studies in this country, but in the meantime attempt to soldier through the next 4-6 weeks.

20 May 2007

18 May 2007

I just got back from two weeks of supervising four Taglit-birthright israel buses, worked with more than a dozen staff, met more than 160 students, traveled from the Lebanon border to the “banana straightening factory” in the south near Dimona (as the you-know-what is euphemistically called), survived a heatwave in the mountains and rain in the desert…and school is still on strike.

It felt natural going back to work for Taglit, with the long hours and alcohol/hormone-fueled student drama. It felt great to be an accessible educator again, getting students to think and ask more questions. It felt exciting to travel through this country again and stay in some rather nice places (chalet in the North with a hot tub). Most of all it felt amazing to be doing something, feeling challenged and useful. Certainly says volumes on both the last two weeks and graduate school thus far.

I’m experiencing some interesting hangovers from the last two weeks (no, not the type experienced by my students during the trip from alcohol they theoretically weren’t supposed to have): I’m always hungry, after endless feedings from hotel buffet lines; my apartment looks smaller and smaller in comparison to hotel rooms; and I have a great tan (albeit of the farmer’s variety).

More to come after a night of gleaning the fields and some research into what’s next.

02 May 2007

02 May 2007

The strike continues, with several attempts to end it to no avail. Meanwhile, I'm going back to work for Taglit-birthright israel, supervising four buses from Hillel for close to two weeks. Besides getting paid (!), this will be an excellent respite from the boredom that has crept into my everyday life lately.

Anyways, gotta get back to packing and hopefully a small nap before greeting my first bus at the airport at 3am!